The Augustan Aristocracy

Syme, Ronald
Date published: 
January 1989

While the monarchy established by Caesar Augustus attracts assiduous study, not enough has been said about the old nobility renascent after years of civil war. One clear reason is the nature of the evidence, most of it sporadic or recondite. To be made intelligible, the theme demands constant recourse to better documented periods. The exposition has to range backward to the closing age of the Republic and forward to Nero's death. In fact, the best testimony to the Augustan aristocracy derives from the Annals of Tacitus. After splendour and success, evident notably in the second decade of the reign (on which this book is centred), the ancient houses wen t down in the embrace of the dynasty, itself from the outset an aristocratic nexus. Covering something like a century and a half in the history of Roman families, this book may be taken as a supplement no less than sequel to The Roman Revolution (OUP 1939) and to Tacitus (OUP 1958).